CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Class A semifinals will be the first games featured when the baseball state tournament starts Thursday at Appalachian Power Park.
CLASS A SEMIFINALS: THURSDAY
4:30 p.m. — Gilmer County (25-10) vs. Notre Dame (26-6)
The first Class A semifinal features a couple of veteran, experienced clubs as Gilmer County is back to the state tournament for the first time since winning the title in 2001, facing a Notre Dame squad that’s looking to avenge a 4-3 semifinal loss in Charleston last season to Magnolia.
Gilmer County starts seven seniors and two juniors in its lineup.
“We’re very experienced and have the leadership needed with guys who have been around and do whatever it takes,” said Gilmer County coach Joe Frashure.
The Titans had a bit of a slump at the beginning of May, losing six of seven, but got things back on track at the perfect time heading into postseason. Gilmer County defeated Parkersburg Catholic 5-2 in regional semifinal action and then knocked off Buffalo 10-5 to advance to Charleston.
“We played well early, had a rough skid, but here of late over the last three weeks, we’ve played really good,” Frashure said. “Right now, we’re playing our best baseball of the season, which is what you want.”
The Titans started off last season with a 22-0 record, but faltered late and missed the state tournament. This year, a couple of veteran pitchers have helped lead the way for Frashure’s club. Senior Adam Beall enters the state tournament with an 8-4 record and 1.29 ERA, adding 100 strikeouts in 70.2 innings pitched. Senior Austin Cunningham is 6-1 on the year with a 2.86 ERA in 49 innings pitched.
“Pitching has been the key for us, and it’s probably the key for any good baseball team,” Frashure said. “Adam Beall heads that pitching staff and he’s been just terrific for us. The next few guys we bring in have been very solid and capable as well.”
Senior Nathan Allison leads the Titans offensively with a .478 average and 40 RBIs on the year. In all, seven Gilmer County batters have averages above .300.
As for Notre Dame, the Irish have been on a mission to get back to Appalachian Power Park following that semifinal lost a season ago.
“We got a taste of it last year, taking a young team with no seniors down there. We were three outs away from playing for a state championship last year and didn’t get it done,” said Notre Dame coach Patrick Marozzi. “Our goal was pretty simple, we would have been pretty disappointed if we didn’t get back to Charleston. We’re humble and looking forward to the opportunity again to win a state championship.”
Notre Dame is led offensively by senior Chris Petrucci who has a .453 batting average on the year. T.J. McKenzie (4-4, 2.98 ERA) and Jordan Miller (6-1, 2.71) make up an impressive duo on the mound for the Irish.
“In high school baseball, it’s all about pitching,” Marozzi said. “We’re fortunate enough to have two really good starters. Defensively, we field the ball behind them – we got out of several jams in the regional final with some pretty good defense.”
After beating Pendleton County 6-0 in the regional final, Notre Dame enters Thursday having won 11 straight games overall, trying to win its first baseball championship in school history.
“I told them they will be remembered for the rest of their lives,” Marozzi said. “I’ve talked to them a lot about how we want this to be bigger than ourselves and we’re going to have that opportunity.”
The two teams split a pair of regular season games, with Gilmer winning the first game 3-1 and Notre Dame winning the second outing 15-2.
“It’s a very intense contest between our two teams,” Frashure said. “Their coach and I have a great relationship. We treat them with respect and they respect us. They’re good year-in, year-out and we’re good year-in, year-out. It has made for a great rivalry. We know we have our hands full, but we’re also very excited.”
7:15 p.m. — St. Marys (29-2) vs. Man (19-11)
The second Class A semifinal features a St. Marys team making its first trip to the state tournament since 1990 against a Man program that has made several appearances since 2005, but has yet to claim the title.
“Everybody is excited. We’re ready to go,” said St. Marys coach Ed Wilson. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been down there.”
Leading the way for St. Marys on the mound this year have been Robbie Harper (9-2, 1.16 ERA), Michael Stout (6-0, 1.48 ERA) and Tyler Davis (6-0, 2.19 ERA). Jarrod Lough, Garrett Furr and Matt Houser also have combined for an 8-0 record on the mound as well.
“We have a deep pitching staff and then offensively have scored 336 runs. We’ve hit 22 home runs as a team, which is probably the most we’ve had as a team since I’ve been coaching,” Wilson said.
Lough has been one of the leaders for the Blue Devils offensively, posting a .485 average with 39 RBIs and 50 runs scored. Catcher John Riggs has a .461 batting average with seven home runs and 46 RBIs.
“I’ve got some kids who can sing the bat,” Wilson said. “We’ve known all along that we had a good bunch of kids for this year and anticipated the potential to get back to the state tournament.”
Man, meanwhile, first made the state tournament back in 2005 and made back-to-back trips in 2009 and 2010, collecting two straight runner-up trophies.
“This is a different group of kids and it’s always good for different groups to continue to get back to the state tournament,” head coach Larry Vance said. “The difference between them is that this is the best pitching group that we’ve had. Other years we had the hitting, but just didn’t quite have the pitching.”
That 1-2 pitching punch this year includes left-handers Braden Griffin (4-3, 1.40 ERA) and Jake Adkins (5-3, 1.15 ERA).
“They have good movement on their fastballs and can throw their breaking-stuff for strikes,” Vance said. “They pound the strike-zone and both throw into the 80s. Their command and presence on the mound is just the best we’ve had as a duo.”
The two left-handers have combined for 144 strikeouts on the year. Offensively, Griffin leads the way as well with a .471 batting average and 29 RBIs.
“He has the best pop in the bat for us and is our best all-around player on the team,” Vance said. “He hits in the 4-spot for us now and anytime he comes up to the plate, he can make something happen.”
The two teams didn’t meet in the regular season.
“Anytime you get to the state tournament, any of those four teams can win two games in a row,” Vance said. “It’s wide open in Class A.”
Man advanced with a 3-1 regional final win over Greenbrier West, while St. Marys beat Bishop Donahue 6-3 in the regional final.